Co-Creating Socially Inclusive Urban Nature-Based Solutions: Towards a framework for socially inclusive co-creation processes
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The use of nature-based solutions (NBS) for urban resilience is gaining prominence in both academic research and the urban planning domain. NBS can be characterized for their action-oriented approach to addressing problems, and the proclaimed co-benefits NBS can provide for the environment, society, and economy. However, empirical research shows that the consideration for social benefits is often lacking in urban NBS design and implementation processes, specifically lacking consideration for issues of equity and social inclusion. As a result, research shows that urban NBS can cause socially exclusive effects by underrepresenting the interests and experiences of marginalized and vulnerable groups in the local area, potentially causing green gentrification and physical displacement of predominantly low-income households. This problem is partly caused due to the lack of a framework for socially inclusive design processes of urban NBS. As a potential means to fill this gap, a creation process which centres around the engagement of citizens during the entire process of developing local solutions may hold the answer to achieving socially inclusive urban NBS. However, literature on co-creation shows that there is an implementation gap between the intended diverse representation of stakeholders as well as deeper levels of participation through a co-creation process, and the challenges of meeting these goals in practice, also in part due to the lack of a framework for co-creation that incorporate issues of social inclusivity. With this problem framing, the objective of this study is to develop a novel framework for socially inclusive co-creation for urban NBS. To develop the framework, a multi-methods research approach was used by developing, applying and validating the framework. First, a literature-based framework was developed building off on relevant bodies of literature, including environmental justice and citizen participation. A funnel-down approach was used to conceptualize and operationalize the framework indicators for a socially inclusive co-creation process for urban NBS. To test the literature-based framework, a comparative case study was conducted on the EU-funded CLEVER Cities project, which focuses on co-creating socially inclusive urban NBS with citizens. This empirical confrontation led to adjustments in the framework, as well as inductively derived new indicators and conditions required for a co-creation process to be socially inclusive. This confrontation led to the development of the empirically-confronted framework. Lastly, this empirically-confronted framework was validated through a validation workshop with academic experts. The workshop led to further refinements of the framework to enhance the consistency and future usability, and the development of the validated framework. The research shows that guiding principles are needed for the entire co-creation process, as well as for each individual co-creation stage. Additionally, the extent to which a co-creation process can be socially inclusive depends on required inputs for citizen engagement and inputs for the implementation of NBS. Overall, the empirical confrontation and the validation of the framework highlight the importance of collectively defining the local problems experienced by citizens as the starting point of the co-creation process. Moreover, the study highlights the importance ensuring the accessibility of the process for diverse social groups, and considering implications for social trade-offs potentially caused by the implementation of the NBS early on with citizens. The validated framework is a starting point to help practitioners develop future urban NBS design processes that revolve around issues of social inclusivity through the use of a co-creation process. Finally, it contributes to a socially sustainable transition.